Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Staff Conducted Community Cat Theater for ASAC

Backstory:  The City of San Angelo Animal Shelter reduced intake via multiple changes in 2019.  This reduction in services caused citizens to search for other ways to address their pet issue.  Many needed help finding a new home for their animal.  The Shelter began referring newly excluded pet cases to area rescues.  Staff printed up and distributed a list of rescues with contact information. 

Area rescues quickly became overwhelmed by calls from people needing to get rid of their pet(s).  Several rescues asked shelter staff to no longer give out their contact information.  They eventually issued a cease and desist letter to garner compliance.  

In early June Councilperson Lucy Gonzales asked staff to share what they do to help citizens with cat overpopulation problems.  

Community Cat Theater:   Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden revealed the shelter contributed to the overpopulation problem by releasing unaltered cats into neighborhoods.  She also referred to the cease and desist letter in her memo to Council.  The  6-15-21 City Council background packet stated:

Animal Services is required to refer callers to a sponsoring organization and scan cats for microchip. Referring citizens became difficult as certain sponsoring organizations issued a cease and desist letter in October 2019 prohibiting animal services staff from referring citizens. 

Morgan never contacted Critter Shack Rescue in 2019 to explore how to refer citizens under the community cat ordinance in light of the cease and desist letter.  

Critter Shack representatives saw Morgan's information in the City Council background packet and contacted her via e-mail on 6-11-21:

Morgan- I see on the next City Council agenda that there is an item that suggests that Critter Shack (an unnamed rescue that is the contact for community cat colony registration) has refused to allow our contact information to be given to community cat caretakers for information about cats or about registering colonies. While we did ask that shelter personnel refrain from giving our our name and number multiple times a day a year or two ago when these people were refused help at the shelter, resulting in dozens of calls many days for all of our area rescues, we never asked that colony caretakers who needed information about registration or advice be turned away. The many, many calls that we were receiving that were referrals from the shelter were primarily about dogs; I remember none that were requests from colony caretakers. We are fortunate to be able to offer some concrete advice and help for those people who are interested in learning more about TNR and we are happy to do so.

We are the contact for many caretakers who are actively practicing TNR, through our web site, through our low-cost spay/neuter clinic, through our partnership with Cassie’s Place for our West Texas Fix program that entirely focuses on cats, through our new voucher program, “Fix Your Critter,” and through our efforts in outlying communities to offer free or very low cost spay/neuter services to many caretakers. We deal successfully with hundreds of colony caretakers in the Concho Valley and any suggestion to City Council members to the contrary is simply untrue. We have an ever-growing list of caretakers and offer as much assistance as we possibly can to these men and women. Since the passing of the ordinance that offers some protection to the caretakers, our programs have focused on providing help to these colony caretakers and a large part of our annual budget is aimed at helping colony caretakers and cat owners in education, financial assistance and low-cost spay/neuter programs. If you or Council members have any questions about our caretaker registrations or programs, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss our efforts in these areas. The ordinance has been a step forward in protecting caretakers who are actively working with TNR and the cats in their care.

Members of City Council received the above information on 6-12-21.  Anyone viewing the ASAC meeting video will realize Morgan deliberately misrepresented the situation to a volunteer public board.  

Morgan had significant assistance in offering inaccurate information from Health Services Director Sandra Villareal, who ironically chaired the ASAC subcommittee that developed the community cat ordinance.

Morgan and Sandra distorted the development of the community cat ordinance and did their darnedest to paint Critter Shack Rescue in the worst possible light.  Morgan's boss Bob Salas sat in the audience as their sick theater unfolded.  He may have been the choreographer.  If not, Salas never rose to challenge any of the false information.

Sandra knows the ordinance does not limit community cat sponsorship to only one organization.  PAWS had over six years to meet the requirements to be a community cat sponsoring organization under the ordinance.  They chose not to do so.  However PAWS began fishing for cat colony managers in 2019 with the promise of a spay/neuter coupon.

Oddly, "Silent Bob" Salas presented the community cat ordinance to City Council in February 2015.  His memo to Council mentioned the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee but had no mention of Critter Shack Rescue.  The ordinance was expressly not written for Critter Shack Rescue, as erroneously stated by Morgan.

So why the theater?  Because the city's exclusive animal services partner does not play well with other rescues and doesn't want to meet the requirements to be a community cat sponsoring organization.  PAWS only wants to meet some of the stated requirements  That's why Morgan offered that very suggestion.

Morgan would be wise to consider that PAWS wants to serve all the animal needs for the city as a paid contractor.  That could put Morgan out of a job.  

Critter Shack received zero funds from the city for serving as the only community cat sponsoring organization since February 2015.   The Shelter's release of unaltered cats for nearly three months cost Critter Shack and cat colony managers money.  They paid real dollars to fix unaltered cats dumped by the city.  Also, the Animal Shelter did not inform Critter Shack or the public that it was releasing unaltered cats into San Angelo neighborhoods, an absolute no-no in the community cat world.

Their is no need to character assassinate the only local rescue helping San Angelo citizens conduct trap-neuter-return, the very solution Morgan proposed to City Council to deal with nuisance cats.  Yet, Morgan and Sandra did just that, with Bob Salas sitting silently in the room.  

Who was not invited to City Council or the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to talk about resources to help citizens with cat problems?  Critter Shack was not invited.  I can only conclude the aim is to demean via  false narratives.  An invitation would bring actual information to City Council and the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

Morgan has long had no interest in collaborating with Critter Shack Rescue on community cats.  The city started community cat Return to Field without contacting its only sponsoring organization.  Three e-mails over four years is the sparsest of communication, especially for a public-private partnership that costs taxpayers zero dollars.

The shelter continued choking off intake in 2021 and even considered not accepting community cats in the April ASAC meeting.   .

Mayor Brenda Gunter believes the program City Council approved will not work.  She has reason to be concerned given PAWS poor performance in their veterinary services contract for the city.  

Community Cat people know trap-neuter-return works to reduce cat colony populations and improve behavior in areas where people wish to co-exist with cats.  Angelo State University and San Angelo State Supported Living Center have long had successful community cat colonies.  

The ASU Cat Coalition website states:

  • Since February 2012, through spay/neuter, adoption and attrition, we have reduced the cat population on campus by over 65 percent.
  • We have prevented over 4,000 new kittens, 64 litters and subsequent litters.
  • 226 cats have been vetted.
  • Through our partner, Critter Shack Rescue, we have adopted 131 kittens/cats that were social or socialized by our coalition members into good homes.

At this time 39 cats remain across campus.

It took much more than a six month pilot and $5,000 to achieve these results and that was with all volunteer staff.  The City will pay overtime to animal control officers to trap.  PAWS does not have Critter Shack's knowledge, experience or resources for community cats.  But they do have Morgan's ear. 

Who's writing Morgan's, Sandra's and Bob's lines?  And how does City Council respond to staff telling outright lies to a public board?

Update 8-16-21:  The minutes refer to this discussion during Regular Agenda:

c.  Update on City Council Discussion on Chapter 3 Animal Control, Article 3.10 Free-Roaming Community Cats of the City’s Code of Ordinances.
A presentation was made by Neighborhood & Family Services Assistant Director Morgan
Chegwidden. No action was taken on this item.

The "presentation" was more like a carefully orchestrated character assassination.  It began at the 8:25 mark and ended at 35:38.  The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for 8-19-21 was canceled.  

Update 3-28-22:  The June 2021 minutes are yet to be approved as the ASAC has not met since then.  Three meetings have been canceled or failed to achieve a quorum.  The next meeting is planned for May 19, 2022.  The minutes will be at least eleven months old by the time they are approved.

Update 6-2-22:  Consider city leadership's painting "nuisance" cat collections as registered colonies.  This e-mail is from Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden.

I think it’s splitting hairs to distinguish (1) spontaneously occurring cats not dependent on- a human for a source of food and (2) registered colonies.

I understand the ordinance has a specific definition but we’re observing any where that cats congregate – I’d call that a colony. A colony can simply mean a group of one or more community cats.

It's not hair splitting.  There are two drastically different responses.  Cat colony managers are responsible for the health and safety of their community cats.  The City is supposed to contact the sponsoring organization for any issues.  Critter Shack would then contact to colony caregiver and they would work to address problems.  The city is free to deal with nuisance cat collections in the vast real estate not covered by colony managers.  

Animal Shelter leadership's ignoring this basic split is concerning but it follows a longstanding pattern of city staff/leadership viewing animal ordinances as the red tape way. 

Update 8-31-22:  CritterShack Rescue took over 40 pets from the City Animal Shelter yesterday as the Shelter is in the midst of a roach infestation.  Good thing CritterShack Director Sharon Halfmann never watched the video of Morgan and Sandra trashing her organization while Jennie Wilson and Bob Salas sat silent in the audience.  

Of the 31 one shelter cats taken by CritterShack only two had been fixed.  CritterShack had them all spayed/neutered within 48 hours.

Update 12-18-22:  Two elderly ladies in Arkansas were convicted for fixing and feeding stray cats.  

“A warning, an arrest, and a conviction – all because maybe we were about to feed stray cats, and because we were solving a feral cat problem that the city couldn’t solve.”

This is why being aware of government distortions is so important.  

Update 4-29-23:  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden went on SALive to talk about community cats and never mentioned the only community cat sponsoring organization, CritterShack.  Morgan talked about the need for cats and kittens to stay out of the shelter and mentioned Concho Valley PAWS numerous times. 

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